VPN Rating Guide (How We Test VPN Services)

HideMyTraffic rates VPNs on a combination of factors including privacy and security, speed, and user experience. At their core, VPNs are meant to help people stay anonymous and safer on the Internet. However because of the very competitive nature of the industry and multiple ways which VPNs can be used, we assess them on multiple other criteria as well.

As an example of this, some of the most basic questions we ask include;

  • Where is the VPN company based?
  • Can it effectively hide my IP/location?
  • Is the data I transfer while using the VPN secure?
  • How much of an impact does the VPN have on my Internet speed?
  • How easy is it for me to install and use the VPN applications?
  • How wide is the network of servers I can access?

These and other questions are all designed to put VPN service providers on their toes. The objective is not just to empower you, the consumer, with the facts needed to make a smart buying decision. They are also intended to force VPN service providers to improve the quality of their products.

Independent and Trusted Reviews

We would also like to take this opportunity to assure readers that our reviews are unbiased. We spend our own money signing up for many of these VPN services in order to remain independent.

In some cases, VPN service providers may approach us to review their products and will offer limited period free access to the service for us to do so. This in no way factors in to the ratings of those service providers.

HideMyTraffic does not accept payment for the publishing of any of our reviews nor do we allow ratings to be ‘bought'. Our content is 100% our own and are not influenced by any of the companies with products under review.

For us, the site is truly about bringing you the best choices in VPN services available.

The Rating Process

Most times we follow similar rating processes in order to ensure that ratings are given in over conditions which are as similar as possible;

1. Purchase

In order to remain as impartial as possible, HideMyTraffic as much as possibles pays for (out of our own pockets) as many of the VPN services we test as possible. This also allows us to take note of some important areas.

We do want to experience the purchasing process and take note of details like how streamlined the procedure is, what forms of payment the provider supports, and most importantly, what type of information is required

2. Speed Tests

Where possible we currently use the IKEv2 as our preferred connection protocol to test VPN speeds on. The reason for this is that it has lower overhead while allowing us to select as high an encryption protocol as the service provider will support. We will opt for 256-bit encryption in almost every case unless it is not available.

Before testing the VPN speeds we will always perform a speed test with our basic Internet connection to establish a baseline speed which is as close to the VPN testing period as possible. This will allow users to see the differences they can expect.

Our normal tests will span server locations in a few major geographical areas; North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.

3. Usability

During the testing process, we will explore to the fullest extent each feature offered by the application the VPN service provider offers. This helps us to not only see if they work but how user-friendly they are.

Things noted during this process include the application design, ease of use, and even how the features are labelled.

4. Customer Support

Almost without fail, each VPN service provider will be contacted anonymously with a support request. This enables us to gauge the depth of first-line support staff's technical knowledge, response speed, and overall standard of service.

5. Burn-in Test

Our evaluation of each VPN service will take as long as two weeks. Aside from specific testing stages we run the VPN continuously in order to take note of service stability, behaviour during service interruptions, how well the app interacts with out test system, and more.

As an example of this, testing a VPN for Netflix access doesn't simply mean that we see if Netflix works. We understand that in customers need a stable product that is reliable. We sometimes even run Netflix tests overnight to take note of interruptions or Netflix proxy detection.

What We Look Out for in VPN Services

Privacy and Anonymity

VPNs help mask your location and, if you’re smart about using them, your anonymity. This is one f the key factors that weigh in on the quality of a VPN service. Believe it or not, where the company is based factors in more than you might realise since many countries have mandatory data retention laws.

Security

The ability to keep your information safe is the second core aspect of a VPN service. The connection protocols and encryption methods should not just be secure, but also balanced enough to enable a reasonable rate of speed.

Although most VPN services today offer 256-bit encryption there is more to security than just that. Some have been known to leak DNS or suffer from WebRTC leaks. We look holistically at how secure the service can be, not simply a few random factors.

Speed

Using a VPN service will have an impact on both your connection speed and latency. The there are various reasons for this but suffice to say that some VPN service providers handle it better than others. It’s rather pointless having the safest and most secure VPN if the speed is unusable.

VPN speed is often relative to the location of the server as compared to your actual location. We test VPN speed relative to our location to various geographic areas to give you an idea of the general speed quality of the service.

One very important factor to remember about VPN speeds is that there are many things involved that contribute to it. Your own equipment and actual line speed, international cable performance and even which VPN server location you choose.

Customer Support

Because VPNs can be technical in nature, having the support of a good team can be vital to the service. Some VPN service providers have support staff that know little of not just the tech, but even their own products. We test them to see if they are of any help at all.

P2P / Torrent Access

File sharing is a very popular activity and in some places the laws on this can be a little harsh. Using a VPN service while torrenting can protect you against unwarranted allegations of copyright abuse and other possible legal ramifications.

Streaming

Streaming media on some services can be a great experience but are on occasion restricted by the services themselves. Netflix for example limits its content depending on the region you are in. Using a VPN service can help you overcome these limitations, but not all VPNs can handle it.

Extra Features

VPN services today are highly competitive and service providers are adding in other features to boost their standings. However, not all added features are useful, and we look out for which are good additions and separate them from those that merely add fluff.

Additional features available in VPNs today include anti-virus services, ad blocking, VPN server masking and more. The question on all of this is; do you really need them?

Overall Value

Value is not just in terms of price, but how well the service balances its features against the price they are asking for. There are also other intangible aspects we take into account such as usability, availability of service, and even app design.

User Experience

A VPN service that is the most secure and fastest in the world will be of little use if the applications needed to run it are poorly designed. While we assessing the services, applications that the VPN provider has also come under scrutiny. Things we keep an eye out for are ease of installation, use, and overall usability of the applications.

Your Choice Matters

While these factors are based on the concept of VPNs, at the end of the day, your needs play a key role in choosing the right VPN service to sign on for. For example, you might have a preference for basic levels of security, but fast speeds.

On the other hand, you might need a VPN service that you feel is innovative and tries to incorporate cutting edge technology like WireGuard as quickly as possible. Or you may even decide to find the cheapest possible.

The best way to use our VPN guides and reviews are to take them as the foundation of how well the VPN generally does and temper that with your specific needs. Keeping this in mind, check out our VPN Reviews or the Best VPN Deals on the market right now.

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